If you're pulling an all-nighter, you'll probably need some help. Here, the good, the bad, and the ugly of the stay-awake aids. The most common sleep fighting agent amongst college students is caffeine, which is the stimulating ingredient in coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Though some use ephedrine, the active ingredient found in over-the-counter allergy and cold medication, like Sudafed or Mucinex.According to the National Coffee Association, college students are now drinking more caffeine than ever-about 3.2 cups each daily, up from 2.1 in 2005. Meanwhile, some students prefer to get their caffeine rush faster, in the form of over-the-counter pills like NoDoze and Vivarin. Most of these tablets contain about 200 milligrams of caffeine, which is comparable to two cups of coffee. Both caffeine pills and direct caffeine intake are fairly harmless ways to stay awake, according to the FDA. Remember though, that caffeine may make you jittery and distracted, side effects that can defeat the purpose of staying awake to study in the first place. Additionally, caffeine can be addictive, so you can suffer headaches and other withdrawal symptoms if you stop using it. While caffeine is generally safe, some energy drinks, like Wired, contain as much as 500 milligrams of the stimulant. That's the equivalent of five cups of coffee in one fell swoop, a dose that may make doing schoolwork more difficult. Still, if you're sticking with caffeine, you're better off than the 14% of your peers who rely on prescription ADHD medication, like Adderall or Ritalin, to stay awake, according to a 2004 University of Wisconsin study.* These stimulating drugs are often used illegally by college students to increase concentration and ward off sleep. While ADHD meds may work in the short-term, if used incorrectly, they can sometimes come with some dangerous side effects, including fainting and seizures. Plus, drugs like Ritalin are addictive, and users may start to desire them even when all-nighters aren't necessary. But no matter your stay-awake aid, you're probably better off letting yourself actually sleep, says a recent study at Saint Lawrence University. There, researchers found that students who avoided staying up all night had better GPAs than those who relied on not sleeping pre-exam. So think ahead, and plan your schedule so that you can crawl under the covers and get yourself some much deserved rest when you're in crunch time!
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012